Religion & Liberty Online

Reflections on the Passing of Leonard P. Liggio

Almost 20 years ago I was invited to speak at the celebratory banquet for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (now Atlas Network) and the Institute for Humane Studies, then celebrating their 15th and 35th anniversaries respectively. I was an alumnus of both and six years into the launch of the Acton Institute (founded in 1990). Both organizations considered me “successful enough” to reflect at the banquet on how each had influenced my life.

It was an undeserved honor, of course, but such was my gratitude to these institutions, that I accepted. The room was full of luminaries of the free market movement, and I was very conscious that Acton’s work was launched from the shoulders of intellectual giants.

One such giant there in the room that night, was Leonard Liggio, who died this past Tuesday at the age of 81. In reflecting on my sadness at his passing this week, I thought I would share my public comments I made about Leonard that evening 19 years ago:

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that it was none other than the great connector himself, Leonard Liggio, who really brought me into the free market fold. He wasn’t the first to introduce me to classical liberalism—that was Robert Sirico, who at the time was not yet ordained and was only an expectant father. But it was Sirico who introduced me to Leonard and the rest is history. If I’m not mistaken, we first met the night of January 16, 1986. That date wasn’t coincidental, Leonard and I were introduced at a private showing of an uncut, unedited 3.5 hour Italian version of Ayn Rand’s We the Living which had just surfaced more than forty years after Mussolini had ordered it destroyed.

While other groups surely had a formative influence on me, (I’m thinking of the Foundation for Economic Education for example, and in particular, Ed Opitz and Howie Baetjer), it was really IHS which doggedly pursued me during and after my college years of the late 1980s. As a student at Johns Hopkins, I saw their posters advertising fellowships, essay contests and conferences everywhere. But most impressively to me, was the personal interest that I felt the staff at IHS took in me. For example, I would get a call from Leonard Liggio, then president of IHS perhaps once per month. I couldn’t help but believe that he really was interested in my personal intellectual journey and open to assisting me in any way.

And while it is not an exaggeration to say that I might not have begun a career in free market advocacy had it not been for Leonard, it is also true that he sustained and encouraged me over the past nearly three decades since we met. As many who knew Leonard experienced themselves, Leonard had an impressive command of knowledge and ideas and most conversations with him were a masterful tutorial in some strain of the history of ideas. His ability to “connect the dots” of history were unrivaled except by perhaps none other than that great historian of ideas, Lord Acton. Leonard loved Lord Acton for all the reasons Father Sirico and I built an institution attached to his name: a morally serious individual, lover of liberty, defender of conscience and historian par excellence.   When we began Acton Institute, it was only natural that we asked Leonard to be a founding member of our board of directors, which he faithfully served for more than a decade.

I will miss Leonard. I will miss his regular emails tracing some current controversy deep into history, or the occasional delivery of large manila envelopes full of printed articles he thought would be helpful. I will miss seeing Leonard in far flung places around the world, surrounded by eager minds lapping up his every word (all the while marveling at his energy and commitment to the cause). I will miss his broad smile and his occasional mischievous grin. I will miss Leonard, the great connector.

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